There are few games as eternal as Tetris. From being the foundation of the Game Boy's success to the savior of anyone in math class with a graphic calculator, the Russian falling block puzzle is pretty much ubiquitous. Even if someone doesn't play games, they're probably at least familiar with Tetris. Everyone has their favorite iterations, but we've seen several that really push the envelope in recent years. Combining Tetris with Puyo Puyo may be rad, but the latest iteration may just take the cake. Tetris Effect is a straight up Tetris campaign ripped from the mind of Tetsuya Mizuguchi. Bringing the visual flair of Rez and Lumines to this timeless classic, the team at Resonair have truly improved on perfection.
The meat of Tetris Effect comes in the form of its single-player Journey Mode. This takes you through 27 unique visual skins, each with their own theme, music, and gameplay quirks. Some will start off slow and ramp up in difficulty, others will shift wildly along with the background. It's absorbing to look at, and even better to listen to. Each movement you make while playing adds to the soundtrack, creating a sync with gameplay that's unmatched. The levels in Tetris Effect just grip you with a feeling that goes well beyond your standard run of the mill puzzle game.
This sense of engagement occurs even outside of PSVR (which I didn't have access to for this review) and it's especially strong during the stages that feature music with vocals. While it's disappointing that there's only a handful throughout the Journey Mode, each one is paced out properly and really special. I'm not sure I would've completed the final marathon without hearing the singer's angelic chorus. The final song is a fitting complement to "I'm Yours Forever", the trailer track and the first song you hear.
The perfect mixture of music and visuals is only part of the story. Like Mizuguchi's prior work, Tetris Effect heavily involves the player via controller vibration. Your gamepad rumbles along with the music as well as responding to important gameplay events. It's just as vital to drawing you into the game as anything else, and it does its job beautifully. In fact, the only thing that takes away from Tetris Effect gameplay-wise is the default zoomed out viewpoint. You can tweak this with the joysticks during gameplay, but you can't set a default view and can't adjust when you're paused. This makes shifting your view awkward to do on harder levels. It's the only place in the game where I felt lesser for playing outside of virtual reality.
It's not just the presentation that makes Tetris Effect so special. Tetris plays just as well as it always has, and there are a few smart additions that really enhance how you play. Most modes have a Focus meter which builds as you clear lines. Activating it will slow the game down and let you drop blocks at your own pace. Once lines clear, they move to the bottom of the screen, giving you a chance to break yourself out of a whole. Tetris Effect also ramps up the speed even on Normal difficulty, making infinite spin feel vital instead of a mistake for the first time.
Alternate modes give the game legs past the two or three hours you'll need to beat Journey. Dubbed Effects Mode, this is a collection of modes that provides a flawless translation of Tetris gameplay in all its forms. If you're a master who wants to play at the highest difficulty, Tetris Effect lets you crank it up. Do you just want to vibe on what Tetris Effect is dishing out? Go into the Chill Marathon or just scope out the visuals in the Theater mode. If you want to learn advanced strategies, Tetris Effect has alternate modes ready to help. While the concept of a game just being Tetris might seem restrictive, this is truly a fully featured package.
There are also a few special modes which mix things up even further. Countdown drops line pieces into designated spots at regular intervals, encouraging you to plan five steps ahead. Mystery reminds me of Test Your Luck from Mortal Kombat. It throws in random effects as you play like huge Tetrinominos or disabled piece switching. Purify has you clearing out blackened squares in a board like a Tetris version of Dr. Mario. Each one is a fine side mode and the addition of possible secret modes down the line only makes me more excited.
There's only so much I can really say about Tetris. It's the ur-puzzle game, a genre-defining classic that continues to find new ways to surprise players all these years later. With a multitude of modes and a stellar presentation, Tetris Effect is easily the best Tetris has ever been. It's still Tetris at the end of the day, but if you get excited by zoning out and dropping blocks, this is pretty much a must-play.
TechRaptor reviewed Tetris Effect on PlayStation 4 with a code provided by the publisher.
Tetris Effect is a dazzling display of all aspects of gaming coming together for a singular experience. It's also a fully featured edition of the best puzzle game of all time. Overall, that's a pretty good combo.
- Absorbing Presentation
- Precise Gameplay
- Plenty of Modes
- Lovely Soundtrack
- Only a Few Vocal Tracks
- Fiddly Viewpoint Controls